|819: St Saviour, St Albans, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Kingsfold.
The church: Parish Church of St Saviour, St Albans, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The Church is a brick built Victorian barn of a building. From the outside, you don't really notice the size, but once inside, you can't help but notice the high ceiling and the wide aisles. The effect is heightened by the fact that the walls are whitewashed and the pillars and arches are unadulterated brick, giving an overall impression of space and light. The high altar and sanctuary is dominated by an enormous reredos, though from where I was sitting, it was a bit difficult to determine exactly what it was – I remember it being very green, though.
The church: The community seemed to cover a wide range of ages from small children up to more elderly parishioners, with probably everything in between. Though the church does have a Sunday School, it was good to see a number of children in the congregation. It certainly felt as though it was a loving and welcoming community.
The neighbourhood: St Saviours is located to the north-east of St Albans city centre. Nowadays, it is a very pleasant looking residential area, but I think historically the church was built because there had been a population explosion in that part of town, with a fair amount of social deprivation.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was Fr Peter Wadsworth, assisted by a reader acting as deacon. The curate and someone who appeared to be another reader were also in attendance, along with assorted servers.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Probably 60-70 people, eventually (several folk wandered in a little late). It's a huge building, but the nave altar and choir stall area takes up roughly one third of the main seating area, so the church seemed to be comfortably full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The lady at the door said"Good morning" as she passed me my books. Beyond this, no one said anything much before or during the service, though there were handshakes and smiles as I shared the peace with the people around me. Most of the welcome and questions came after the service!
Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were wooden framed with padded fabric seats and backs. They were linked together, but were not so close as to make them uncomfortable. Additionally, the rows were very well spaced, which was probably very helpful for those who are somewhat taller than I.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a definite hum of greeting and conversation going on around me over the organ, but it wasn't intrusive.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our opening hymn is number 242." It came from the back of the procession and was somewhat muffled. I got the message, though.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a home-produced order of service and a pew sheet containing the readings and one or other useful bits and bobs. The hymns came from Hymns Old and New.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ. There was no choir that week, but the congregation sang heartily and produced a very respectable noise.
Did anything distract you?
One of the taperers had a rainbow-hued hairband, arranged in stripes of different colours, which attracted my attention during the gospel procession. She'd got a little close to her partner, and the reader (who was acting as deacon) had to gently move her backwards a little so that he could actually get to the gospel book. It was all done very gently and quietly, but it made me smile.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
They describe themselves as being catholic. We had bells and smells, good quality organ music, and a liturgy that worked on a number of senses, but it felt relaxed and comfortable.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 He was very clear and concise, and his sermon was well-structured. He also sounded very natural as he spoke, despite the fact that I think he may have been reading.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel reading was about the transfiguration of Jesus, and the healing of a boy with an unclean spirit that immediately follows it. Fr Peter spoke of the transfiguration and of its mystery, and that it was important that we have "mountaintop" experiences. However, when faced with that sort of experience, the disciple Peter tried to enshrine it – to freeze it in time in some way – but it's important that we move on and go back to everyday life and service as Jesus did. If we are always up in the heavens, we become no earthly use. Fr Peter used this to remind us of how we should reach out and serve the community around us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a lady in a wheelchair who was wheeling herself back from the communion rail and one of the gentlemen in the congregation gave her a hand and helped her back to her place. Somehow, that action spoke to me of love and respect, of kindness and gentleness, and I was very moved to have observed it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only thing I found remotely hellish was the temperature. I don't usually feel the cold much, but the temperature was just slightly below comfortable, and my feet were beginning to turn into ice blocks by the end of the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The gentleman next to me asked if it was my first visit, and if I'd just moved into the area. I said I was visiting and he vanished off somewhere (I think he was putting books away). After a few minutes listening to the organ and looking about me, I was approached by a lady who handled the potentially awkward "Are you visiting or are you new?" type of question with grace. She asked if she should know me, which allowed me to explain that I had a Sunday off from my own church and had decided to visit somewhere else. She then invited me to stay to coffee, and introduced me to another lady to take me through. I got talking with her and two or three of the congregation over coffee, and they made me feel welcome.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was served in china cups, and came out of thermos jugs, so I have no idea whether it was instant, conscientious or anything else. It was perfectly drinkable, and there were biscuits if you wanted them.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 If I lived in St Albans, I'd be here like a shot. I felt totally comfortable with the style of worship. The people I met were welcoming without being intrusive, and all encouraged me to come back if I felt like taking another Sunday out from my usual parish. I think I probably shall – if nothing else, I missed the choir and I'd like to hear them!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most definitely – though I was worshipping in a strange (to me) place, I really felt pleased to be there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I think what will stick with me is the action of the man who helped the lady in the wheelchair, and that moment of suddenly feeling, "these people love and respect each other".